The Five Subspecies of the Wild Turkey

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The North American Wild Turkey has five subspecies: the Rio Grande, the Merriam’s, the Osceola, the Eastern, and the Gould’s.

There are opinions and thoughts on hunting each subspecies, like that Alabama and Mississippi Easterns are the hardest to hunt, or that Florida Osceolas are the quietest and hardest to call in. Regardless of difficulty or the collection of a Grand Slam, each wild turkey is to be celebrated.

The Eastern Wild Turkey

Information provided by NWTF

eastern subspecies turkey

Photography by Tes Jolly

Easterns are the most abundant of the five subspecies, as well as the most widely distributed. They’re mostly found east of the Mississippi River, but they are in a total of 38 states and several Canadian provinces.

They are characterized by chestnut-brown tips on their tail feathers and white and black bars on their wings. Adult males or toms weigh 18-30 pounds while females or hens typically weigh in around 8 to 12 pounds.

Eastern toms have what is considered the strongest gobbles of all subspecies. They also tend to have the longest beards of all the subspecies.

Basic Characteristics of the Eastern Wild Turkey

Feathers:

Chestnut-brown tips on tail feathers

White and black bars on the wings

Size:

Adult males weigh 18 to 30 pounds

Adult females weigh 8 to 12 pounds

Gobbles:

Very strong gobbles (strongest gobbles of all subspecies)

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Beards:

Very long beards (longest beards of all subspecies)

Hunting Difficulty:

Second to the Osceola in difficulty of calling in

Osceola Wild Turkey

Information provided by NWTF

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Osceola subspecies

Photography by Mike Matthews

Osceolas are only found in Florida. They are characterized by dark-brown tips on their tail feathers, mostly black wing feathers with very small bands of white. Adult males typically weigh around 20 pounds while the females weigh around 8 to 12 pounds. These turkeys have long legs, strong gobbles and very long spurs, while their beards are usually shorter than their Eastern counterparts. They are considered among hunters to be the toughest species to call into range.

Basic Characteristics of the Osceola Wild Turkey

Feathers:

Dark-brown tips on tail feathers

Mostly black wings with very small white bands

Size:

Adult males weigh approximately 20 pounds

Adult females weigh 8 to 12 pounds

Gobbles:

Strong gobbles

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Spurs:

Very long spurs

Long legs

Beard:

Shorter beard-lengths than Easterns on average

Hunting Difficulty:

Considered the toughest species to call in

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

Information provided by NWTF

Rio Grande subspecies

Photography by Darcy Daniels

Rios concentrate in the western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and other western states. Mexico also has a healthy population. They are characterized by tan-colored tips on their tail feathers, equal black and white barring on wing feathers and moderate gobbles and beards. Adult males weigh around 20 pounds while their female counterparts weigh around 8 to 12 pounds.

Basic Characteristics of Rio Grande Wild Turkey

Feathers:

Tan-colored tips on tail feathers

Same amount of black and white barring on wings

Size:

Adult males weigh approximately 20 pounds on average

Adult females weigh 8 to 12 pounds

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Gobbles:

Moderate gobbles

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Beard:

Moderate beard-lengths

Spurs:

Moderate spur-lengths

Merriam’s Wild Turkey

Information provided by NWTF

merriams subspecies

Photography by Guy Tillett

Merriam’s are the most abundant in the mountainous regions of the West. The Rocky Mountains are considered the central hub of the population. They are characterized by light colored tips on their tail feathers with more white and less black on their wing feathers. Adult males weigh around 18 to 30 pounds, and the females weigh around 8 to 12 pounds. They are considered to have the weakest gobble of all the subspecies and have short to moderate beard lengths.

Basic Characteristics of Merriam’s Wild Turkey

Feathers:

Light tips on tail feathers and upper tail coverts (rump feathers), buff to white

More white and less black on wings

Size:

Adult males weigh 18 to 30 pounds

Adult females weigh 8 to 12 pounds

Gobbles:

Weakest gobbles of all subspecies

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Beard:

Short to moderate beard length

Spurs:

Short spurs

Gould’s Wild Turkey

Information provided by NWTF

Goulds subspecies

Photography by Stephen Spurlock

The few, newly introduced Gould’s subspecies can be found only in Arizona, New Mexico, and the Sierra Madres of Mexico.

They can be distinguished by the white tips on their tail feathers, and they have long legs similar to an Osceola. Adult males typically weigh 18 to 30 lbs; the females weigh about 12 to 14 lbs.

Basic Characteristics of the Gould’s Wild Turkey

Feathers:

Snow-white tips on tail feathers and upper tail coverts

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Wings are moderate in coloration

Size:

Adult males weigh 18 to 30 lbs

Adult females weigh 12 to 14 lbs

Gobbles:

Moderate gobbles

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Beard:

Moderate beard-lengths

Spurs:

Shortest spurs of all subspecies

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>